Wednesday, 20 July 2016

parkrun du Bois de Boulogne

During the reign of the Emperor Napoleon III (the nephew of Napoleon), Paris was expanding to both the east and the west, and as the only public parks were situated in the centre of Paris, the Emperor decided to build two new large public parks. In the east he would create the Bois de Vincennes and in the west the Bois de Boulogne.

The Bois de Boulogne [bwa.d(ə).bu.lɔɲ] covers 845 hectares (2090 acres) and sits within the 16th arrondissement of Paris. It was originally part of the ancient Forêt de Rouvray (Forest of Rouvray) which stretched from the western edge of Paris all the way into Normandy. The park was created between 1852 and 1858. The emperor had spent some time in exile in London, was impressed by Hyde Park and wanted to create something similar in Paris.

paris [photos:7t]

He was personally involved in the planning and insisted that the Bois de Boulogne should have a lake in the style of the Serpentine in London's Hyde Park. This plan almost went wrong when the original design failed to take into account the difference in elevation between the two ends of the lake.

If you visit the park today you will notice the two lakes 'Lac Superieur' and 'Lac Inferieur' have a cascade in between them which was created to solve the problem. The park has also been the subject of works of art by Manet, Renoir and Van Gogh.

bois de boulogne [photos: 7t / dani / nicolas vaissiere]

Moving into the present day, the bulk of the park is still forest with paths, allees and avenues that criss-cross their way through the park. There are also various gardens, a complex of greenhouses which contain 100,000 plants, a zoo, an amusement park and boats available for hire on Lac Inferieur - we spent a day exploring the park and hired a 'Canot' (little boat) and enjoyed a good hour on the lake.

The park has strong links to horse racing and features two horse racing tracks on its borders. The French Open (tennis) is hosted at the Stade Roland Garros complex which is situated at the southern end of the park.

start and course [photos: 7t / nicolas vaissiere]

Putting everything else to the side for now, we were here for the park's newest sports-related event and that is the parkrun du Bois de Boulogne, which is a free, timed, 5 kilometre, run which is open to all abilities every Saturday morning at 9am. We had travelled to Paris a few days earlier and were staying in a flat just outside the park in La Muette; it's not the closest point to the start of the run, but it was close enough to travel there on foot.

The meeting point for the run is in the south eastern corner of the park at a crossroads in the path which is right next to a car park. If you're looking on a map you will see the road 'Route de Boulogne a Passy' which leads into the car park from the south. Then there is a footpath called 'Route d'Auteuil Suresnes' The point where these two meet is where the runners meet - the pre-run briefing also takes place here.

course [photos: dani / nicolas vaissiere]

This parkrun currently seems to attract a high percentage of British parkrun tourists and the run briefing, while being predominantly in French also had the most important parts also relayed in English.

We approached from the north of the meeting point via the entrance closest to La Muette and we (I) got a little confused on the way and arrived at the start with very little time to spare. The easiest way to find the start would be by travelling to the Porte d'Auteuil station on the Metro (served by lines 9 and 10), exiting via the 'Hippodrome' exit and entering the park at the southern end. If driving then you can head for the car park right next to the meeting point (I didn't check to see of you had to pay for this).

bois de boulogne [photos: 7t / nicolas vaissiere]

The start of the run is about 50 metres south of the meeting/briefing point and the runners head south from this point. Underfoot is a mixture of tarmac and dusty forest trails - we ran here in the summer and it was dry but I could imagine certain sections being wet and splashy during the winter.

The shape of this course makes it quite difficult to categorise and depending on who you ask, you'll get a slightly different way of describing it (figure of eight / three laps / heart shaped etc..). I have attached a diagram which I found on the venue's official Facebook page and I think this shows the route better than I can explain. However, I will try.

from parkrun du bois de boulogne's facebook page [image: david rayner]

The first section is slightly downhill and is run on a smooth tarmac path. At the end of the path, the course swings to the right and then right again onto 'Allee Saint-Denis' (there are a few different paths at this point of the park so pay attention to the marshal and look for the arrows).

Underfoot now changes to the dusty, slightly uneven forest paths. At around 1km into the run there is a cycle path to cross so it's worth looking boths ways just to be sure the way is clear. A marshal at a sharp right-hand turn shortly after directs the runners onto ''Route d'Auteuil Suresnes' which leads towards the wide 'Avenue de Saint-Cloud'.

Once reaching the junction with 'Avenue de Saint-Cloud', the runners have completed a 'C' shaped loop of the left/upper part of the course in a clockwise direction and must now complete two full anti-clockwise loops of the right/lower section which is essentially all on tarmac.

bois de boulogne [photos: 7t nicolas vaissiere]

This loop starts at the junction where the runners emerge from the forest path and sees the runners following the avenue towards the southern end of the course where they turn left and head back up along the opening section, pass the start line and meeting area, then follow the arrows back around to Avenue de Saint-Cloud where they continue to repeat this loop a second time.

At the end of the second anti-clockwise loop the runners enter the finish funnel which is located at the aforementioned junction. Conveniently there is a Wallace Fountain right next to the finish line - these fountains provide free drinking water across the whole of Paris [link: map] so it's a great spot to re-hydrate post-run or to refill a water bottle if you have brought one along.

post run [photos: 7t / dani / nicolas vaissiere]

Barcode scanning takes place right at the finish and once all of the runners have finished, they pack up and head north along the avenue to 'Le Café du Bois - Chalet de La Pelouse St Cloud' for a coffee, croissant and a post-run chat to the team and some fellow tourists.

The results for event 25 were processed a few hours later and we are pleased to now be able to call ourselves not only 'international parkrunners', but also 'parkrunneurs'. However, with the strict French rules around what constitutes a 'race' you will not find course records, age category records or a points table published here. Also you'll find everyone's finishing times listed in alphabetical order rather than by finishing position/time which re-enforces the fact that this is a run and not a race - I wonder if this will eventually happen to the UK results pages. 

If you'd like to see the course in detail, my full GPS trace for the course can be found on Strava, here; parkrun du Bois de Boulogne.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Joydens Wood 5k Series 2016 - June

The Joydens Wood 5k series, hosted by Dartford Road Runners, takes place on the last Wednesdays of May, June and July each year over three different courses around this stunning ancient woodland. This is the third year I have taken part, but I have only ever managed to get to one race per series.

That was all set to change this year, but then I discovered that I had been scheduled to work the late shift and, even though I tried, I couldn't find someone willing to swap it with me for an earlier finish which meant that I missed race 1 of the 2016 series.

joydens wood

So for race 2 I made sure well in advance that I'd be on an early finish and planned my exit strategy down to a tee. Fortunately the trains behaved and after a quick pitstop at home, I arrived at the woods with plenty of time to spare and registered on the day for £6.

As I mentioned above there are three different courses in this series and somehow I have always run exactly the same course. I completely forgot just how painfully tough this 5k is and is an added bonus, June 2016 had been quite a rainy month which meant the conditions underfoot were much worse than on the previous occasions (Links: Joydens Wood 5k 2014 / Joydens Wood 5k 2015) I had run here.

joydens wood

A big thing I learnt during this race is that although I am currently running a flat 5k in roughly the same time as I was last year, I am not coping with hills very well right now. As soon I started running up any of the many hills in this race I really struggled and slowed down much more than the runners around me.

I lost places to those behind me but when the ground levelled out I stayed with those runners only to fall further behind on the next incline. This makes sense as I have had a long term knee injury which has lead to avoiding a lot of the types of training that would make me stronger in this area.

joydens wood [with thanks to richey for the running photo]

However, I'm not used to being so weak on hills so a few modifications to my training are in order. Over the last 3-4 months almost all of my training has been on the track and if specificity is a key part of training it's easy to see why my flat course 5k times are doing ok but throw in a hill and I fall apart. I'm also not currently including any long runs in my training as that could cause problems with my knee injury so that means that my endurance is pretty much non-existent.

So back to the race, and with the official results in, I finished in a time of 22.32. I had hoped to come in under 22 minutes so I'm pretty disappointed with the time. However, I did finish in 11th position which is fairly consistent with my previous finishing positions in the series so I'm pretty pleased with that. The last race of the series is also the 4th race of the run>dartford series so the plan is to be back here in a month's time for that, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Cranleigh parkrun

Cranleigh is a large village in Surrey which has a population of just over 11,000 people. It is thought that the name came from the two Old English words 'Cran' (meaning Crane) and Leoh which combined essentially mean 'a clearing in a wood which is visited by Cranes'.

There are large Crane breeding grounds at Vachery Pond (known locally as Vachery) so that all ties together quite nicely. The village (along with twelve others) lays claim to the being the largest village in England.


To the south of the village you'll find Knowle House which was formerly the centre piece of a small estate called Knowle. This is now a care home but was formerly a private house owned by Bruce Mckenzie - a South African man who was a politician in Kenya eventually becoming confidant of Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta and had close links to leaders all across the world. Bruce Mckenzie was assassinated in 1978 when the small plane he was travelling on was destroyed over by a bomb whilst flying over Uganda.

In 2013 Cranleigh council exchanged some land with a local businessman for the building of a new hospital. As part of the deal the land adjacent to Knowle House was gifted to Cranleigh Parish Council and became a sports field called 'The Bruce Mckenzie Memorial Field'.

run briefing / start

On 4 Oct 2014 the sports field and the adjacent fields became home to Cranleigh parkrun. Interestingly, when I visited I heard word that some of these fields are under threat of development which could jeopardise the future of this parkrun venue.

So I turned up and parked in the free, on-site car park at the Bruce Mckenzie Memorial Field. The car park is pretty small so if it is full the official advice is to park across the road in the Snoxhall Fields car park which is also free-of-charge. Failing that there are a few other car parks in the centre of the village but you'll have to pay to use those. As far as non-car travel is concerned, it's not ideal. There used to be a train station in Cranleigh but this was closed in 1965. The closest train station is now Guildford and the onward journey can be completed in 25 minutes by bus (53 or 63).

through the long grass

With the exception of the car park, there are no facilities at all at the sports field so if you need the toilet you'll need to go elsewhere.

The official parkrun page suggests that runners use the toilets in the nearby leisure centre but it is worth noting that the toilets are on the other side of the entry barriers and I felt a little nervous asking to go through. Fortunately there is a public toilet block a few metres away from the leisure centre so I nipped in there.

the hill

As mentioned above, the run itself takes place on the Bruce Mckenzie Memorial Fields and also uses the adjacent fields. It is a two-lap course and underfoot is entirely grass and dirt with the exception of a few footsteps at the end of the first lap where the course briefly enters a coned off section of the car park. The profile is best described as a combination of flat and mildly undulating with the addition of a hill to climb halfway around each lap.

On more than one occasion I have heard/read the route described as 'convoluted' and while this might sound a little harsh, it does actually sum it up quite nicely (in a good way). I suppose technically it's only the second half of each lap that can be described in this way.

other side of the hill

The first half of each lap is quite straightforward and follows the natural paths in a natural way. I'd like to give a special mention to the long grass that hugs the footpath at the 500 metre (and again at 3.1km) point - I found each knee-high blade of grass whipped my shins as I passed through and although there was no long-lasting damage, my legs were pretty tender from it straight after the run.

Also in the non-convoluted first-half of the course is the hill. It's a gentle slog uphill for about 200 metres or so. It levels out for a bit where you can enjoy the view across the Surrey Hills (it's worth putting in the effort to glance sideways during the way up) and then sends you back down via a pretty steep downhill. The really steep part doesn't last for too long but it's worth being aware of it beforehand.

the twisty sections

It's after this point where the convoluted part starts and involves quite a lot of weaving around the fields which is great fun for people like me that love twists and turns.

Another thing worth noting is that as you near the end of each lap (at 1.8km and again at 4.4km) there is a small bench on the other side of a blind bend which effectively sits right on the natural running line - there is a path next to it but it would be easy to crash into the bench if you were in full flight and not paying attention. The final section of each lap is on the Bruce Mckenzie Playing Fields where after a bit more weaving around the finish line is reached.

the final stretch

As I've mentioned, underfoot is grass and dirt paths, and as it was summer I wore my light trail shoes. I visited this venue on 25 June 2016 for event 92 and there were a few slightly splashy sections which lead to me finishing the run with wet feet. I was glad that I'd brought a change of socks and shoes so I'd advise doing that. In the winter I suspect this course is likely to be a mud-bath so it'll be a case of full trail shoes or even spikes.

For the full course GPS details you can see my data on Strava: Cranleigh parkrun 92


The venue had been a delight to visit - I found everyone to be really nice and the atmosphere felt friendly and relaxed. I didn't join the team for post-run coffee but I did have a good chat to some of the volunteers and some fellow parkrun tourists which was very nice. I also managed to bag myself a piece of chocolate brownie after the run which rounded a great morning off nicely.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

City of London Mile 2016

The City of London Mile is a free, 1 mile race that takes place on closed roads in the area around St, Paul's Cathedral. 2016 marked the third year the race was held and it was the first time we had taken part. I signed myself and the family up online and as I mentioned earlier, the race is free.

On the day of the race we travelled up to Central London by train and alighted at Cannon Street Station which is just a short walk away from the race village, which was on the road which runs along the eastern border of St. Paul's Cathedral, New Change. Upon arrival I changed into my running gear and as the course was 100% tarmac I went for my New Balance Zante V2 shoes.

Number collection was available in the week leading up to the event from Run-Fast (The Running Works) in the City of London. However, I couldn't make it over there so we just collected our numbers on-the-day from the collection point. I actually had to pick up two numbers for myself because I had entered two waves; a race wave so that I could have a good tear-up and also the family mile where I could run with my wife and daughter.

pre-race [photos: dani / 7t]

We met up with some friends from Dartford parkrun and found a nice base to hang out near the finish. As each of our waves came around a few of us would head off while the others watched the bags and cheered. Incidentally there was also a bag drop facility, but we didn't use it. The queue to collect bags was pretty long later in the morning so I was quite pleased that we had had an alternative in place.

The first of our waves to head off was the wave that me and my friend Adam were assigned, which was wave 3. I have to admit being a little confused by the system that was in place at first. Runners in a wave were called to a waiting area in the race village and then moved around to a second waiting area before finally being allowed into the start pen, which was on the road to the south of the cathedral called St. Paul's Churchyard right at the point where it changes into Cannon Street.

What didn't help was that the guy calling the runners only had a very small portable megaphone thingy and we didn't hear it until he was calling wave 4. Anyway, we figured things out and ended up in the start pen with the rest of wave 3. There were 314 people in wave 3 which made the start area felt pretty tight and when the starting pistol was fired it took a few seconds to reach the timing mats.

ready to go [photos: 7t]

The course, which was slightly different from the route published on the official web page, took the runners from St Paul's along Cannon Street where the course bore left onto Queen Victoria Street and past Bank Station. The next part consisted of an anti-clockwise loop of the Bank of England along Threadneedle Street, Bartholomew Street which was ever-so-slightly downhill, then onto Lothbury. This was the halfway point of the course.

The loop continued with a left-hand turn onto Princes Street where the loop of the Bank was complete. The route then headed through Poultry and onto Cheapside for the last 400 metres. Cheapside is on an extremely gentle incline as it leads back towards St Paul's Cathedral. The finish line is located just before the junction at the north end of New Change where the runners collect their medal and are fed directly back into the race village.

As far my race was concerned, it went pretty well but I think my head gave up as I was running along that last 400 metre stretch and I just didn't want to push any harder than I was - you can see in the photo below how tense my shoulders look. Although there was, what felt like, a fair amount of congestion along the course, it didn't really affect my pace. However, the congestion did have the effect of keeping me well off of the racing line most of the way around which was frustrating. I crossed the line and almost immediately received a text message containing my finishing time - I was really impressed with that. You can see the course on my Strava trace of the race, here: City of London Mile GPS data

around the course [photos: 7t / dani]

About an hour later, and just after some of our other friends had set off, I was back on the start line for family wave 1 with my wife and daughter. This time around was a more relaxed and a lot of fun, but still very busy. There was plenty of support and my daughter really loved it. However her favourite bit was right near the end where she got some huge cheers from our friends near the finish line. She was all smiles and waves here.

A few seconds later we all crossed the finish line (again the results text message was instant - I hadn't even stopped Strava from recording when it came through). We worked our way around to the end of the finish area, collected our medals and water, and then headed into the race village and then back over to our spot near the finish line where we continued to watch the rest of the races.

I can't help but compare this event to the Westminster Mile (blogs: 2013 / 2015 / 2016), after all they are both 1 mile events in the centre of London. For me the Westminster Mile edges it as my favourite of the two and mostly this comes down to a few things. Firstly, I prefer then setting of the Westminster Mile. Green Park is the perfect race village and the green areas make for much more pleasant surroundings; ideal for a post-race picnic.

family race [photos: dani / 7t]

The City of London Mile did have the upper hand as far as entry fee is concerned (totally free) and of course the instant results text messaging service was amazing. My only slight gripe about the results was that the text message gave the exact finish time to the nearest 100th of a second, but the final results viewed on the official results page rounded the finish time up or down to the nearest second.

So my 5:42.68 finish time became a 5:43 - not the end of the world and I imagine it's standard practise to do these things. It's just never nice to think you've run a certain time only to lose a second a few hours later. I think it would have been better to have the times match, so either have the text messaged time rounded up before being sent or just publish the official times including 100ths of a second so they match in that way. Not so bad if you're rounded down because the mm:ss is still the same. *rant over*

With the running all done, we all headed off to find some food. Most of my friends are also vegetarian so it made sense to go and support a local vegetarian business. We headed off to Sagar which is a South Indian Vegetarian restaurant just off of Covent Garden. This was followed by some vegan ice cream in Yorica which is on Wardour Street. Exhausted but happy we headed over to Charing Cross where we caught the train back to Dartford.

medals and smiles everywhere

Results Wave 3:
Me: 5:42.68 (rounded up to 5:43 in the official results)

Results Family Wave 1:
Dani: 12:17
Matilda: 12:16
Me: 12:16

Full Results: City of London Mile on (main page)
Full Results: City of London Mile Results (with search 'Stockwell' applied)
GPS data from my run in wave 3: City of London Mile Strava Data

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